A lot of people use the terms “meal plan” and “meal prep” interchangeably, but they are very different. They go hand-in-hand, and you need them both in your life.
I am so excited that our Masterclass for January 2022 is all about how to do BOTH. Booth Parker, a personal finance expert, a mom, and our January guest expert, is going to teach us how she meal plans and meal preps! (She’s also offering “Your Path to Simplified” members a HUGE discount on her full personal finance course or the meal planning/prepping mini-course!)
If you’ve read anything on budgets, saving money, health, weight-loss, productivity, food waste, or being a mom, then you’ve likely learned about meal planning.
Meal planning is when you choose a day of the week and write out what you will eat in the upcoming week. You then create your grocery list based off of that menu and buy only the things you need. As you go through the week, you simply follow your menu.
Meal planning is wonderful for so many reasons. Here are some!
- removes the daily question of “What are we having for dinner?”
- saves you money on last minute takeout when you don’t know what you want or don’t have the ingredients you need.
- saves you money on spoiled food you purchased on a whim with no plans to use it.
- keeps you on track if you have specific eating goals for health or weight loss/gain.
- saves you time grocery shopping because you’ll have a specific list.
- reduces food waste because all food you purchase will be put to use.
Are you convinced yet?! It can take a few weeks to get into the groove, but I encourage you to give it a try.
Meal prepping receives much less attention than meal planning, but it is a game-changer for sure. Meal prepping is when you prepare food, usually when you bring it home from the store, so it is ready when you plan to cook or eat it. You can meal prep on a few different levels.
- Prepare foods to use as snacks such as wash fruit, cut veggies into bite-sized pieces, and divide bulk bags of snacks into portion sizes.
- Prepare food that can be used in meals such as chop onions and celery or dice chicken.
- Take it a step further and prep entrees or entire meals, so all you have to do is warm them up when it’s time to eat.
Prepping food requires an investment of time up-front, and it can be a life-saver during a busy week.
Individually, meal planning and meal prepping are great and may be all you need. But like wine and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and the members in our membership, meal planning and meal prepping really are better together.
I’ve read where some people buy a bunch of mix-and-match ingredients, so they can create meals on the fly during the week. This meal prepping is amazing, but what if you are exhausted at the end of the day with no energy left to figure out how to put those ingredients together? This may work well if you have chef-like skills, but if you tend to only follow recipes, then you may find you have prepped things you don’t need or are missing things that you do need.
Meal planning alone is great too, but, again, what happens if you are exhausted at the end of the day with no energy left to prepare the meal you planned? I know in my house that situation leads to take-out, which usually has a negative impact on our budget and our waistlines.
For maximum impact, you need to meal plan and meal prep together. Plan your meals and then prepare as much of them as time allows. Voila! You are many, many steps closer to home-cooked meals even on the busiest days.
Though I’m far from consistent in meal planning and prepping (2022 goal!), I would like to share a couple of tips of my own.
- For easy meal planning, be sure to check out my blog post on creating a recipe binder linked here. It shows you how to organize your family favorites, recipes you want to try, and even recipes in cookbooks. Having an organized binder to flip through for inspiration will save you so much time (and mental energy) during meal planning.
- For meal prepping, you have to balance how much time you spend up front with how much time you’ll spend on the day you actually eat the food. Meal prep more of the items on the busier days, but maybe not as much as on the days that aren’t so busy. I don’t know about you but too much prepping can feel burdensome.
- This may sound really obvious, but choose the day that works best for you. It’s easy to get stuck in thinking that everything has to happen on Sunday to prepare for the week, but you can meal plan and meal prep anytime! It may be that you want to plan on Thursday, grocery shop on Friday, and prep over the weekend. It could be you have Wednesdays off, so you do it all on that day. We usually spend Sundays doing family stuff, so grocery shopping on Sundays has never made sense for me. Figure out what works for you and stick with it until it becomes second nature.
I am SO excited to share Booth’s tips for meal planning and meal prepping. In her mini-course, she unloads groceries and preps an entire week’s worth of meals in an hour! I finished her mini-course with so many food goals, and I’m really excited to start 2022 on the right foot!